We tell the story of house music's greatest love song.
"I'm willing to take the chance."
In 1984, that's what Chicago's most important club DJ said upon hearing that Jamie Principle, a bedroom singer with a day job, wanted to collaborate. José Gomez, a mutual friend, brought Frankie Knuckles the tape for "Your Love," a three-minute song that was the remains of a poem Principle had written for his first love, a "beautiful young girl" named Lisa. The rhythmic original version, little more than vocals and Roland TR-909 drums, lit up the Power Plant club Knuckles spun at each weekend. It was made available only on dubplate and reel-to-reel tape until its first official release in 1986, becoming the third and final record on Chicago's Persona Records. "Everyone would just lose their minds to it," Knuckles said 25 years later.
Featuring backing vocals from Adrienne Jett, who wasn't credited at the time, Your Love was Principle's second official release, following 1985's Waiting On My Angel, a debut EP that Persona cofounder Danny Alias said sold "a thousand copies a day in Chicago." Before its 1986 release, "Your Love" grew from a raw drum track to a spacey eight-minute house jam overnight, thanks to synthesiser contributions by Mark "Hot Rod" Trollan. Borrowing from Electra's "Feels Good," Trollan would never know the song's impact—he died of AIDS that December. For a while, the same went for Principle, who, coming from a strict religious family, wasn't able to witness its impact in nightclubs.
"Your Love" is an iconic record. Its definitive—and most controversial—version arrived on Trax Records in 1987. (A lesser-known copy also came out on D.J. International, another Chicago label.) It was released without Principle's permission, and Knuckles became the main artist credited. "I've never been signed to Trax," Principle said in 2011. "They literally just stole my stuff."
"They pretty much stole the stuff from me and Jamie," Knuckles said. "If someone comes up to me with something that's on Trax they want me to autograph, I don't."
Paired with "Baby Wants To Ride," Trax's version was two minutes shorter than the track released on Persona Records one year earlier. Licensed to labels in Sweden, Belgium and the UK by the end of the decade, its sound, more reduced than the lush house tracks found across the rest of Knuckles' catalogue, soon spread beyond US. Since then, it's become what may be house music's most-played record. It appeared on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and an episode of Nip/Tuck, and has been sampled or covered by mainstream acts like Friendly Fires, Animal Collective and Gorillaz. It's in a class of tracks that also includes Jeff Mills' "The Bells" and Derrick May's "Strings Of Life," timeless, hugely influential tunes produced by African American artists who developed the blueprints for house and techno.
But more than those classics, "Your Love" is linked to the black, gay nightclubs integral to the early days of electronic music. Knuckles, a gay man, was a resident at several key gay venues, including The Warehouse, the Chicago space that gave house music its name. Principle, who is straight, found comfort in gay culture, despite knowing little about it before linking with Knuckles. "It was hard being accepted by straight people," he said in 2016. "I've always been an affectionate person, regardless if it's male or female. For me to be in a culture that would let me do that and not have me be afraid of who I am was beautiful, and it made me start to have a sense of self."
Principle's experience is just one of many stories linked to a theme central to house music's roots: inclusion. A world foreign to him was a refuge from a home life suffocated by religion. "I just wanted to be me," he said. Since 1984, "Your Love," and tracks like it, have soundtracked the spaces that have given millions a chance, however fleeting, to be themselves. When Knuckles died of complications from diabetes in 2014, a social media campaign successfully pushed "Your Love" back into the UK charts for the first time in almost 20 years, testament to its impact on generations of listeners.